July 17, 2012

Title IX 40th anniversary

Though the law expanded opportunities for women in many arenas, it still faces challenges, experts say.

By Mike Lowe mlowe@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

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Janet Judge, below, a sports law attorney from North Yarmouth, is regarded by many as one of the nation’s foremost experts on Title IX. Above: Judge, at age 10 in 1972, was one of the first girls to play Little League baseball in her native Maryland. That season, she was mostly intentionally walked or hit by the pitch.

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Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

Thirty-seven words are all it took to change America.

Those words, signed into law as Title IX by President Nixon on June 23, 1972, not only opened educational doors that had previously been bolted shut to women, but also expanded opportunities for women both on the playing field and in the work force.

But as Title IX turns 40 on Saturday, the landmark legislation still faces challenges. Despite all the progress, schools, colleges and universities sometimes still need a push to ensure equality, especially when it comes to facilities and opportunities to play.

The Women's Sports Foundation reports that, at the high school level, there are 1.3 million more boys competing than girls nationally -- and that gap has widened in the past couple of years.

Janet Judge is president of Sports Law Associates in North Yarmouth and regarded by many as one of the nation's foremost Title IX experts. She co-authored the NCAA Title IX handbook with Tim O'Brien, a Title IX lawyer from Kennebunk.

She applauds Title IX's 40th anniversary, but notes more work needs to be done.

"Even 40 years later challenges remain," Judge wrote in an email. "Where schools would never dream of requiring female students as a matter of course to use poorer bathrooms, make do with inferior equipment in the classroom, double up in dorm rooms, be satisfied with inequitable access to medical treatment, agree to use facilities during non-prime times so that their male counterparts are not inconvenienced and wash their own clothes while providing free laundry services to males, they still allow these things to happen in athletics."

Yet the impact has been significant, shaping a cultural shift that tore down decades-long stereotypes of what women could and couldn't do.

"Title IX," said Bruce Pratt, an English professor at the University of Maine and the faculty liaison to the women's basketball team, "is as important as anything since the voting rights and civil rights acts of the 1960s. When I was young, girls were told to avoid sports and to be quiet about their school successes, because such things made them unattractive to men. In other words, athletic and intelligent women didn't make good marrying material.

"That was an awful message to young women," Pratt continued in an email. "Title IX allowed women to see what it was men got from sports, and they have been better ever since."

RANKS OF WOMEN ATHLETES EXPAND

Of course, Title IX isn't just about sports, although that is where its impact is most evident. The legislation, introduced 40 years ago by U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink, D-Hawaii, and embraced by Democratic U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh of Indiana, has provided many opportunities previously not available to women.

In a Sports Illustrated article celebrating the 40th anniversary of Title IX, it was noted that 47 percent of all law degrees are now going to women, compared with just 7 percent in 1972; and 48 percent of medical degrees now go to women, compared with just 9 percent in 1972.

The growth in athletics is even more astounding.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, there were just 294,015 girls participating in high school sports in 1972. In the latest numbers, for the 2010-11 school year, there were 3,173,549 girls competing in high school sports -- a 979 percent increase.

In one measure of Title IX compliance, Maine received the third-best rank nationally. According to the National Women's Law Center, schools where the percentage of girls participating in sports is 10 or more percentage points lower than the percentage of girls in the student body as a whole are probably at risk of not complying with Title IX.

In Maine, 7.5 percent of the state's high schools fall into that category -- in the worst-ranked state, Georgia, 71.6 percent of high schools do.

The rise isn't as dramatic at the NCAA level, but it is still significant, according to statistics from the Women's Sports Foundation: from 29,977 females competing in 1972, to 186,460 in the 2009-10 school year -- a 522 percent increase.

A YARMOUTH GRADUATE'S EDUCATION

Title IX certainly opened the eyes of a young Yarmouth High School graduate named Julia Greenleaf back in 2000, when she was a member of the Connecticut College women's rowing team.

Frustrated and upset at what they perceived was the poor treatment of the women's program by the school's administration, the rowers refused to practice, then covered the school logo on their jerseys with duct tape during competitions.

They staged a sit-in and presented a list of demands -- among them, the hiring of a qualified coach for the women's team. In the end, they were victorious.

Greenleaf, who wrote the letters of protest and demands to the school's board of trustees, found her calling because of that event. Now married, Julia Pitney is an attorney with the firm Drummond & Drummond in Portland, specializing in employment law and discrimination cases.

"That event made me decide I wanted to go into law," she said. "It made me see that I had some knack for advocacy. And being a lawyer is about being an advocate."

JUDGE: IT'S ABOUT EQUAL OPPORTUNITY

Judge, the nationally renowned Title IX lawyer, was in Boston last week. Before that, it was Virginia, then Idaho, Spokane, Wash., and Georgia. When people have a question about Title IX, they go to her.

"There's nobody better than her in the country," said Steve Abbott, the athletic director at the University of Maine.

Maybe that's because her entire life has seemingly revolved around Title IX.

Growing up in Potomac, Md., she was the only girl on the Little League baseball team known as the Hustlers. Once she hit high school, she tried out for the boys' cross country team. She made it, and then was the subject of some heated discussions: What to do about her?

"Their solution was to set up cones on the soccer field every day and let me run by myself," she said. "And so ... separate but equal."

That was in the early 1970s, soon after Title IX passed. Following high school, she went on to play soccer at Harvard University. Her career path eventually led her to law, and to Title IX.

Now colleges across the nation ask her to audit their programs. She represents 15 colleges, working not only on Title IX compliance but also on other issues such as NCAA enforcement and strategic planning. Currently, she is representing four schools in open Title IX compliance investigations.

At its essence, she said, Title IX is simply about providing the same educational opportunities to both males and females.

An offshoot of that is that Title IX has proven sports does matter.

"The crux of Title IX is simple: Educational institutions that receive federal funding should treat boys and girls, men and women, fairly, or give the money back," she said. "Schools that comply have seen all of their athletes thrive. Participation in sports teaches valuable life lessons for male and female competitors.

"Successful athletes want the ball, don't blame their teammates, understand the value of teamwork, show up every day, practice to get better, bounce back from loss and celebrate personal and team victories. Title IX helps to ensure those experiences are available to our sons and our daughters equitably. That's pretty significant."

'MASS MOVEMENT' TOWARD FITNESS

By allowing girls to participate in competitive athletics, Title IX -- renamed the Patsy Takemoto Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act after the late U.S. representative -- has affected society in many positive ways.

"When Title IX was passed, one of the things that wasn't widely recognized is the empowerment that comes with being physically fit and physically competent," said Nancy Hogshead-Maker, a former U.S. Olympic swimmer and the senior director of advocacy for the Women's Sports Foundation. "One of the hidden benefits has been this huge mass movement toward being physically fit, something that really changes the psyche of our country.

"Being physically fit and physically competent will fulfill you, will help you in other areas of your life. Kids who are physically fit get better educations, they complete school more readily, they're in the work force more. It is a very powerful thing for everyone to have a healthy, productive work force that is well-educated."

Julie Davis, the athletic director at the University of Maine at Farmington for the past 11 years, is quite succinct in her thoughts about Title IX.

"I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing if it wasn't for Title IX," she said. "That's for sure."

"I was a shy kid growing up," she continued. "Sports helps build your confidence and skill set and provides a vision of what you might be capable of. It did it for me and for boys."

SCHOOLS TRY TO DO THE RIGHT THIING

As colleges and universities across the nation grapple with Title IX compliance, athletic directors at the University of Southern Maine and other schools in the state say they have simply followed a basic tenet: Do the right thing.

"I think Title IX means making an honest effort to treat both genders the same," said Al Bean, the athletic director at the University of Southern Maine. "To make sure that you're providing equal access to both men and women and you're being fair about how you treat them.

"You want to make sure what you're doing for one, you're doing for the other."

Jeff Ward, the athletic director at Bowdoin College, said he often looks at how the college handles its sports teams. And while he must consider Title IX compliance, he thinks a school has to look beyond that.

"I really want our students, and I think the college really wants its female students, to know how much we value them," he said. "I would be negligent if I didn't look at things from a Title IX perspective every once in a while. But it's not really how we drive our policy.

"I ask myself, 'Am I being fair to everyone?' "

There are three ways a school can meet Title IX requirements:

If the percentages of male and female athletes are substantially proportional to the percentages of male and female students enrolled at the school.

If the school demonstrates it has a history and continuing practice of expanding athletic offerings for the underrepresented gender.

If the school's athletic programs effectively meet the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex.

It's not always easy. Proportionality, for example, fluctuates on an annual basis as seniors graduate and freshmen enter.

"The hard thing is to stay compliant in an ever-changing environment," said Richard Barron, the women's basketball coach at UMaine. "Needs constantly shift, numbers constantly shift. You have to look at participation numbers, but you also have to look at what the needs are for that community.

"If 50-50 is the goal, but you've got a student body that's 60-40 women, but only 30 percent of the women have a desire to participate in athletics and 70 percent of the men do, how do you balance that?"

That's where people like Judge come in.

"Title IX involves intense technical compliance and that is a challenge for everyone," said UMaine's Abbott. "It requires a level of expertise and that's why we're lucky to have someone like Janet Judge working for us. There are a lot of small things you have to do to make sure you comply."

Bean is grateful to have Judge on his side as well. The two discuss compliance and, Bean said, she will point out shortcomings that the school works to eliminate.

One obvious shortcoming is the school's softball field. It is located next to the baseball field, which has several amenities that the softball field doesn't. Bean said the school is working to raise funds to improve the softball field.

"When we renovated our baseball stadium, the plan was to move right to softball and do that," he said. "Here we are, seven years later, and that still hasn't been taken care of. That's on our shortlist of things to take care of. We've known from day one it needs to be dealt with."

DADS SEEK HELP FOR DAUGHTERS

Abbott firmly believes that Title IX had everything to do with women now being accepted not only as athletes, but also as athletic administrators, coaches, doctors, lawyers, engineers or leaders in business.

"It wasn't that long ago when women's sports, or girls' sports, were treated more like recreation and more like intramurals," he said. "And those things are great. But it's a different experience ... to compete at the intercollegiate level.

"And the benefits (of competing in college) have been in place long enough that they're paying off for a whole generation of women who are in the work force and are becoming business leaders and great leaders in the nation."

Lynn Coutts, the softball coach at UMaine, used to joke with her male classmates a lot when she played softball for the Black Bears. She would tell them, "I can't wait until you have daughters. You're going to want them to have the same opportunities you had."

Hogshead-Maker of the Women's Sports Foundation knows this is true.

"Who calls the Women's Sports Foundation overwhelmingly?" she asked. "Men with daughters, looking for help."

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

mlowe@pressherald.com

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

 

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

The women’s crew team at Connecticut College put tape over the school insignia on their uniforms in 2000 to protest what they considered unfair treatment. Portland employment law attorney Julia Pitney, then Julia Greenleaf, is fifth from left.

Courtesy Julia Pitney

  


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